The Northern View: Rice seeks answers regarding Highway of Tears consultations

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February 25, 2015 | Shaun Thomas | The Northern View

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice is looking for answers regarding a trip along Highway 16 the Ministry of Transportation made last summer, a trip she says officials have not been able to produce evidence of.

Rice submitted a freedom of information request (FOI) to ascertain the approximately “80 organizations, local governments, First Nations and others” Transportation Minister Todd Stone said were included as part of consultations along Highway 16 last summer during a CBC in December, but was told an extension was needed as the notes were handwritten and needed to be transcribed. But on Feb. 17, Rice was told there were no records related to her inquiry and the matter was closed.

“We know that there are records because the ministry asked for an extension to our FOI request. They said they needed an extension because the records were hand-written and needed to be transcribed. Can the Minister of Citizen Services explain what happened to those hand-written records and why they are being hidden from the public,” she said during question period on Feb. 24.

“The people of Northern British Columbia deserve to know why the B.C. Liberal government is hiding the results of any consultations that were had. We don’t know how many of these meetings actually took place, and whether the minister is misrepresenting what people said. Northwest communities have heard enough excuses, it’s time for action to bring safe transportation options along the Highway of Tears,” she added after leaving the chambers.

But the response came not from Minister of Citizen Services Amrik Virk, but from Stone himself.

“All Freedom of Information requests that come into the government are handled by professionals in the civil service, but the fundamental issue is that this government is taking action to ensure that safety along Highway 16 is improved and that there are safer transportation options available,” he said, adding dialogue with groups along the highway is continuing.

“There is an appeals process through the office of the privacy commissioner, if the members don’t feel they have been provided the information they requested then that is a process they should engage.”

As well as a lack of records, Rice took issue with statements made during the interview in which he said he had “heard from First Nations and other local government” that a shuttlebus is “probably not practical”.

“The Minister of Transportation told public that the people along the Highway 16 corridor that people didn’t want safer, affordable transportation, he said that nobody thought it was practical, yet that is not what people have told me. People up and down the highway all want the same thing, safe, affordable transportation. Maybe that is why these records are being hidden,” Rice said in the Legislature.